Stepping inside the main auditorium of Hamburg's new $843 million Elbphilharmonie concert hall is akin to visiting the set of an elaborate science-fiction film. The 2,150-seat architectural wonder features undulating curves, 1,000 artfully-placed hand-blown light bulbs, and an organ disguised as a trellis within the room's walls. To reduce both vibrations and outside interference, the auditorium itself is structurally separate from the remainder of the building, enclosed in a kind of spring-loaded cocoon.

And, of course, there's its stunning suspended reflector:

While all of these features greatly contribute to the concert hall's world-class sound, its the 1 million unique seashell-shaped divots embedded throughout that truly bring it all together. Called parametric design, these acoustically-active pockmarks absorb and scatter sound on the hall's 10,000 acoustic panels. Even more incredible, they were all precisely generated by a computer algorithm.

“It would be insane to do this by hand,” Benjamin Koren, who developed the acoustic algorithm, told Wired. Working with famed acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota, Koren and his team at the firm One to One, created a sound map of the auditorium and had a computer generate the grooved panels needed to make it a reality.

“That’s the power of parametric design,” he says. “Once all of that is in place, I hit play and it creates a million cells, all different and all based on these parameters. I have 100 percent control over setting up the algorithm, and then I have no more control.”




A view of the unique divots that dot each of the 10,000 acoustic panels within the Elbphilharmonie's main concert hall. (Photo: One to One)

Each of the divots, measuring between four to 16 centimeters across, has a role in shaping the sound produced by the auditorium. Their depth, size and angle are all influenced by their placement within the space and proximity to either the orchestra or the audience.

“Here I could literally demonstrate my passion for precision and put it into real effect”, Koren said in a news release.

According to DW music editor Rick Fulker, who attended Elbphilharmonie's opening concert on Jan. 11, the acoustic characteristics of the space create an immersive experience.

"From my vantage point, the stage was far below, but despite the distance from the source of the music, I had the sensation of sitting amidst it," he writes. "That sound is so mercilessly clear that one is tempted to analyze it, so I turned my attention readily from one orchestral voice or instrumental group to the next. When played solo, single instruments are 100 percent vivid."

While experiencing the concert hall's exquisite sound is something only truly possible in-person, you can see what it's like to sit in the Elbphilharmonie's grand hall below.